18 Oct Myth-Busting Postural Alignment
Athletes, exercisers, performers, presenters and anyone who aspires to elevate their game by attending to their posture, usually agree that ‘good form’ is a function of how well they look, feel and perform. Frequently, the idea of ‘good form’ is associated with the idea of ‘postural alignment’ which is generally understood to mean the ‘stacking’ of the head, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles along a plumb line from the top of the head to the floor. As an imagined visual, the image of a plumb line can be problematic, in part because it is only applicable to a static standing or lying down position. Furthermore, alignment is by definition ‘straight’ and many people attempting to achieve postural alignment tend to strain, stretch and tuck their way there, leaving them rigid, tight and unstable. As an Alexander Technique teacher*, I believe there are three visuals (at least…) that are more helpful than picturing a y-axis line, especially when various conditions and activities don’t allow for symmetry and stacking. Try these metaphors on for good form:
A Spine instead of a Line: The alternating curves of our spines work as shock absorbers and help with weight distribution and balance. It’s all too easy to over-arch these curves with common orders such as ‘chin up! chest out! shoulders back’ or to flatten them with instructions such as ‘chin in, tuck the pelvis, pull your tummy to your spine…’ For a more sustainable (and better looking) pose, keep an image of a nice curvy spine in mind. Having an awareness of the full length of your spine (longer than most people think) can help us lengthen without compromising the curves.
An Apple instead of a Core: Alignment is often associated with the notion of core muscle engagement. When it comes to movement, think about opening a door – pushing close to the hinge (the door’s ‘core’) is virtually impossible, it’s the opposite side that offers the necessary leverage. Contracting core muscles tends to narrow our base of support by virtue of, well, contraction – inadvertently making us a little easier to topple. Even when engaged in activities where alignment may indeed be beneficial such as prolonged standing, performing a Tree Pose, walking a beam or riding a bicycle, integrating coordination with your extremities and full size (the whole apple so to speak, and no offence if you’re more of a pear…) can increase stability and be less fatiguing.
Guylines instead of “Imagine a string attached to the top of your head…”: People often respond to this directive the same way they do when mom says, “sit up straight!” (or when they first learn that I am an Alexander Technique teacher!). Momentarily, we may indeed pull (and often hyperextend) up but it’s not really sustainable. Imagining being raised by guylines can keep us structurally supported and well-grounded even when bending, twisting, or otherwise out of alignment. When we are trained to find this support, we can maintain balance on slippery ice, when wrangling a cranky toddler or dealing with anything else that threatens our equilibrium.
Alignment is not a wrong idea per se but, it’s easy to overdo it and it’s an ineffective model for anyone with even the slightest measure of pain, tension or physical compromise. Even at our very best, demanding conditions and the environment we’re working in are rarely conducive to maintaining a plumb line. Referring to images that encourage length, integration and support can help maintain good form even when pursuing the most demanding position or movement.
*Alexander Technique encourages a natural poise and coordination that enables easy, lively movement by learning to rally our innate, postural support. It is an educational process suitable for people of all fitness levels with applications to both every-day and specialized activities.
AmSAT certified Alexander Technique teacher in private practice and various venues in greater Cincinnati